Dos and Donts of Military Care Packages for Soldiers

by : Sarah Smiley

Sending a care package to your loved one deployed overseas seems so easy, doesn't it? You just box up some cookies, attach a sweet card, and it's ready to go, right?

If only it were that easy.

Sending mail to ships/units overseas is tricky for many reasons (slow processing, mail limitations, etc.) but one of the most confounding is this: unless you've been deployed yourself, it's hard to know exactly what a Soldier or Sailor might want.

After two deployments (and a picky husband), here's what I've learned about military care packages.

Try Not to Embarrass:

You might think sending a life-size portrait of your toy poodle dressed in a ballet skirt is hilarious, but chances are your husband won't be laughing when he has to carry the cumbersome "pooch" back to his room and past all his friends. You never know where your spouse will open his package, or whom he'll be with. If you think he'll be humiliated for anyone to know you sent him pink boxer shorts, either don't send them or give him a heads up about the contents of the box. Similarly, if you're sending something that might embarrass YOU (, make sure you don't surprise your beloved, or he might unknowingly cast your photos to a group of nosey friends peering over his shoulder as he opens the box.

Don't Douse the Box/Envelope with Perfume:

Women think this is wonderful, to spray perfume all over a man's gift or letter. And honestly, our men probably like to receive the smelly treasures too. But when your husband has to carry that letter through three hallways and up four ladders back to his room, he may not be thrilled dragging a cloud of feminine perfume behind him. Remember, the military is notorious for issuing its members "call signs" or "nicknames" at their weakest, most embarrassing moment. If you don't want your husband to be called "Christian Dior" for the rest of his career, go easy on the scents.

Steer Clear of Chocolate:

When you send something via an FPO address, you never know where it will wait in transit before it gets to its destination. Your carefully prepared box of chocolates may wait onboard a ship in the Persian Gulf before being delivered to your spouse -- if you don't want that package to be a big, melted, gooey mess, don't send chocolate (or anything else that can melt).

Keep it Small:

Keep in mind your loved one may not have much personal space in his overseas accommodations. Chances are good he has no place to store the giant smiley face pinata the kids made for him, and it will end up being a burden rather than a pleasure. Things that can be stored easily (small drawings and pictures, travel game sets) and things that can be consumed (food, toiletry items) rate high on most Soldier's and Sailor's lists.

Keep it Personal:

Remember your loved one has not been home for a really long time -- what might seem silly or boring to you (an audio tape of the children fighting over the Nintendo) will be like a little piece of home for your spouse. Send things to remind your Soldier/Sailor of the things he loves (his children, family, favorite foods, taped reruns of his favorite TV shows).

Make it Fun:

Deployed Soldiers and Sailors are working almost non-stop and with little new scenery or change of pace. They don't have the option to go to Barnes and Noble for awhile to "get out" and see something new. So bring the fun and the new to them. My husband always likes getting DVDs, CDs, books, and sports magazines. He's also pointed out that it is hard to get a "real" American newspaper when he is deployed, so the local paper from home is always appreciated (especially the Sports section). Remember these Soldiers and Sailors are living without many of the comforts and conveniences of home. Therefore, mail call is a welcomed opportunity to receive something new and different to look at....things they can't get on the ship.

Make it Frequent:

Mail Call can be the highlight of the day for any deployed man or woman. Even something as small as a crayon drawing from a two-year old can bring joy to your loved one! Make it a point to send something....even if it's just a frequently as you can!